What does it mean to be smart? If you’re like most people, your definition of intelligence varies about yourself as much as it does about others, including your children. Here, Mara Shapiro discusses intelligence and how it encompasses a wide range of definitions.
What Does it Mean to be Smart?
We hear so much about “smart” these days. We are inundated with programs that claim to train the brain or make kids our kids “smarter.” Companies market their study systems with the promise that their activities or programs will help kids do better in school or push them ahead of the pack.
But, what exactly does a “smart” kid look like?
Do they get the best grades at school, or can they answer the most math questions in the shortest period of time? What about being able to figure out a complex word problem or write an original and analytical essay—can they do that? Can they navigate from point A to point B without a map or understand how to help repair someone’s hurt feelings or their carburetor? Do they have the ability to play a concerto on the piano or to design makeup for a science fiction movie?
Personally, I think SMART is all of the above.
Why Being Smart is More Than Just a Word
When you look at my three children, you’ll see why.
The eldest, a girl, has street cred. She can take care of herself. She’s intuitive about people and situations. She talked at one year, was reading by the age of four independently, and at the age of 18, holds down two jobs as well as going to school. She can take beautiful photographs, dances, loves fashion, and applies makeup like a pro. Her grades are mediocre at best, unless she really puts her nose to the grindstone.
Is she smart?
The second, a boy, can play three instruments and several sports, although he excels at none and hasn’t a competitive bone in his body. He has tons of friends, an innate sense of people and their needs, and is always busy. He’s extremely analytical and never takes anything at face value. His marks in school are quite good, although he rarely puts any effort in his work. He is equally good at math, science and language-based courses. He has a nearly photographic memory.
Is he smart?
The last, also a boy, is gifted in the 100th percentile. This means his scores were the highest of the test group of any child his age. He also has ADHD. He has trouble making friends, doesn’t excel at any sport or extracurricular activity, and prefers the company of a book or computer. He knows 10 programming languages and knows just about everything (I’m not exaggerating). However, he does quite poorly in school, is extremely disorganized, and rarely finishes assignments.
Is he smart?
Personally, I think they all are smart. But, not all of them fall into the dictionary definition—“having or showing a quick witted intelligence”—which they all do, by the way. My kids each have areas that they excel at, whether they are academics, music, technology, the arts, or yes, even people.
The Many Forms of Intelligence
Smartness comes in many shapes and forms. Not everybody can be good at everything, and when we focus just on specific types of academic achievement or on creating “smarter kids,” we lose a whole component of intellectual, creative and social development. We also run the risk of missing opportunities for individual achievement and the self-discovery of innate and unique talents, not to mention the damage of children’s self-esteem when they don’t measure up.
Here’s a personal example: Notwithstanding any training, enrichment or tutoring, I cannot do math. My brain doesn’t process the kind of logic that’s required to decode formulas or algebra. The numbers literally dance in front of my eyes. I’m not visual, although I was able to do well at geometry, as I could create a “story” around the rules. But, I’m very good with words, storytelling and people. My creativity also comes out when I cook, and I have a strong sense of empathy and the ability to problem-solve human situations.
Do you think I’m smart? You bet I am. My parents sent me to a private school that allowed my creative side to flow. They had unorthodox teaching methods that included a lack of desks and a free-flowing classroom when we could learn at our own pace, and where my lack of aptitude at math was overshadowed by my achievement in languages and arts.
Same goes for my children. Through our choices of schools and camps, we have been able to help them find their own unique abilities and be their best selves. From sports camps to dance camps and arts-based education to multiple types of after-school programs in the school, my three children have been able to find out who they are and what they do well.
I firmly believe that if we are going to create “smarter children” we need to recalibrate exactly what we consider to be smart. The world is made up of so many different types of people, talents and occupations. Each one requires a different skill set—from artist to garbage collector, neuroscientist to electrician. Our job as parents or educators is to provide opportunities for kids to figure out exactly what they are good at and help them to be their own very smartest selves.
So tell, me…what are you SMART at?
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What do you think, what does being smart mean to you? Share your thoughts in the Comments section below.